Correcting the history: Rewriting the memory of being a Pashtun and a Pakistani

“The times they are a-changing,” may well have been a cliché but it does come true for a group of people now and then.

Over the decades other than this statement remaining true for coming into being of new states and new political identities even though “the end of history” was proclaimed long ago but the political realities also have changed for hundreds of millions—for better or for worse—around the globe.

This time, the times are changing for Pashtuns living in Pakistan. Pashtuns are organizing under a black flag with a slogan that concisely gives voice to the frustration of tens of millions, “Da sanga azaadi da?” (Which kind of freedom is this?)

The movement was around for years but it got impetus and shunned its tribal nature of being a movement for demanding the rights of people of Fata and converted into a national struggle after the killing of Naqeebullah Mehsud.

The successful sit-in in front of Islamabad press club for ten days was called off after the prime minister ensured that the demands of the sit-in will be met.

On that day Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement came into being and the mobilization across the Pasthun belt of Pakistan was announced to be done to sensitize masses to the demands of the movement.

Sadly, the mainstream media and the larger society of Pakistan ignored both the protests and the legal demands of the protestors.

It was expected that the protest and the movement would fizzle out with time as they were not coming from an organizational structure but rather was a spontaneous eruption when after the grievances of Pashtuns at the hand of the Pakistani state gained certain critical mass.

The Pakistani state and the Pakistani mainstream media dismissed the movement but their dismissal was perceived as a further proof of the aloofness of the Pakistan mainstream to the pain and political reality of Pashtuns.

The demands are now crystallized into

1) Arrest Rao Anwaar and his team and dispense justice to Naqeeb’s family;

2) Stop extra-judicial killings of Pashtuns;

3) Present all missing Pashtuns before courts;

4) Clear Fata of all landmines.

The demands can be categorized as asking for the basic right to life, the basic right to due human dignity and the basic constitutional right to the due procedure under the law.

The demands are framed under the framework of the relationship of Pashtuns, as a group of people having a distinct ethno-linguistic identity.

Scan the social media spectrum and you will come across support for the movements and the demands over the party and ideological lines.

This movement is extra-provincial in a way that it is not for the economic and constitutional rights of a federating or administrative unit but rather the provincial lines are shunned and socio-political rights for a people spanning across a larger belt and elsewhere in the country are demanded.

The extra-tribal nature of the movement makes it a modern manifestation of nationalist struggle where the nation is defined through progressive parameters of celebrating the diversity of language and culture.

After nearly two decades of living through war, facing displacement, internal immigration, humiliation of being treated the ‘other’, of being part of the problem which is terrorism, of being racially profiled across the metropolitans of the country, the bodies of Pashtuns have become the point where the oppression of a modern state converge.

Defied both the protection of the law and subjected to discriminatory racial treatment the Pashtun Tahuffuz Movement is defining the relationship of Pashtuns to Pakistan and is writing a new socio-political contract between Pashtuns and the Pakistani state.

From the spectrum of the speeches made and the narrative maintained everything from the brutally inhumane, to the clowning dehumanization through satirizing, to the negation of ethno-linguistic identity is visible.

Much to the celebration of good sense, all these demands are articulated within the constitutional framework of Pakistan. Not the structure of the state but the asymmetrical nature of that structure is the target of criticism.

Manzur Ahmad Pashteen, the leader of the movement, invokes the authority of law and appeal to constitutional guarantees every time he puts forward his demands or recounts any of the harrowing tales which he carries in his chest and which weighs on him like a sacred duty to be told and retold.

Unfortunately, even after the affirmation of the supremacy of the constitution of the country and formulating the political, social and cultural grievances in the language of the constitution certain hues of the opinion making are throwing dirt on the movement.

Instead, they are declaring Manzur Pashteen and leaders of the movement as foreign agents just on the basis of their ethnic identity—repetition of the same old fallacy which contributed to the current state of affairs.

Some other segments that tread the line that the demands may well are legitimate but the language in which they are couched is hurting the integrity of the state institutions.

But that is the language that the un-represented—the Pashtuns—use among themselves if they do have the guarantee that the wrath of the state institutions won’t fall on them.

In fact, one of the reasons that the movement has found such resonance with the larger Pashtun body is the shared vocabulary regarding the state and the few institutions of the state.

The fact that the mainstream of the country doesn’t share that vocabulary and that there is no overlap in the language when voicing the behavior of certain state institutions reaffirm the oppression that Pashtuns face because of the discriminatory policies of those institutions.

Rather than making the vocabulary and language in which the grievances of the movement are put forward, a question mark on the intentions of the movement, they should call for introspection for why a whole ethnic population is made into a fringe.

It is also worrying that the Pashtuns of the country are finding no common language or reference points to describe their experience of reality.

For instance, while the youth of Lahore can be complaining of the irregular schedule of the metro, the young men and women of Islamabad will be talking of the inconvenience brought by the developing of new transportation projects.

The young men of Waziristan will live in trepidation because they may be next in the line to be killed or disappeared and the youth of the Swat will have to make their minds to not lose their temper at the humiliation at the checkposts because the aftermath may be a dark dungeon, for who knows how many days or weeks.

The opaqueness of the point of connection between the urban, the mainstream and the fringe, the Pashtuns can only be made transparent if the former listen to the later and try to empathize with their pain and suffering.

As is pointed earlier, a whole generation has known nothing but war and if the Afghan Jehad of 80s and the subsequent mobilization and religious indoctrination are taken into account, make that three generations, who have seen the horrors of war and have lived the violence of war as everyday reality.

The pain, the losses, the humiliations, the traumas, the lives ruined and the lives unlived have become part of the collective identity and collective memory of this generation of Pashtuns.

The movement is led by the youth and while there is the emotional strain, the youth have come clear on their relationship with the state; which is the guaranteeing of equal rights.

This movement is rewriting the old memories which were instruments of the state to put in place the hegemony of a certain discourse. The old memory of the “Pashtun have sacrificed” is now debated and the sacrificial trope of glorifying the helplessness and covering the incompetence of the state is now rejected or rather mocked.

It is brought to home that the existential identity of being a Pashtun will define how the state will treat a Pashtun rather than treating him an equal citizen. This new memory which is being written is of struggle against the oppression. The new memory is of standing up while at the same time being shunned by the mainstream and the state.

It is obligatory on the mainstream to portray the struggle as it is and avoid rejecting substituting the legitimate grievances with strawmen of their own. The last week saw four successful rallies of the movement in Pashtun belt of Balochistan.

From next week the focus will be Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. If hundreds of thousands of people have become part of the movement and have lent their voice to the demand out, of their own volition, then it should be extraordinarily clear that it is the frustration with the state and the mainstream which is talking.

A new identity of what it means to be a Pashtun and a Pakistani is being defined right now and how the state deals with it will become part of the collective memory. Collective memories, fortunately for the oppressed and unfortunately for the oppressor, work through its own dynamics and often have trajectories of its own.

We can hope that the mainstream will adjust its direction to accommodate the divergent trajectories which are being defined by this movement.

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